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In Israel, Google tests AI tech to better time traffic lights

US technology giant says early results show 10-20% reduction in fuel use and delay time at intersections

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Startups and Business editor and reporter.

Illustrative: Workers operate a traffic light in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, January 14, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Illustrative: Workers operate a traffic light in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, January 14, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Google said it is testing artificial intelligence technology in Israel to optimize the efficiency of traffic lights. According to its early research, the solution led to a 10-20% reduction in fuel consumption and delay time at intersections.

The project was among a number of software-based initiatives trialed by Google to help combat climate change and pollution.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai detailed several solutions where people can use Google’s products to make sustainable choices. These include making carbon emissions data part of Google Flights, its online flight booking search service, and making eco-friendly routes available on Google Maps so drivers, cyclists and scooter riders can choose fuel-efficient routes.

Pichai said that by highlighting eco-friendly routes “we estimate that this could save over one million tons of carbon emissions per year — the equivalent of removing over 200,000 cars from the road — and save you money by reducing fuel consumption.”

Google is also “finding ways to make routes more efficient, across an entire city, with early research into using artificial intelligence to optimize the efficiency of traffic lights,” he said.

Google Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt explained in a video presentation that a Google AI research group worked to calculate traffic conditions and timing at intersections in cities across the world and then began training a model to optimize those inefficient intersections.

Google says early research in Israel has shown that using AI to optimize traffic lights can lead to a 10-20% reduction in fuel use and delay time, October 2021. (Google)

The same team conducted pilots at four locations in Israel in partnership with the municipalities of Haifa, Beersheba and the Israel National Roads Company.

“We were able to observe a 10 to 20% reduction in fuel and intersection delay time,” said Brandt, and the company is set to launch new pilots in Rio and other cities in the near future.

“Inefficient traffic lights are bad for the environment and bad for public health because idling cars mean wasted fuel and more street-level air pollution. This is an opportunity for AI to help create breakthrough change,” she said.

Googleplex headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)

The US tech giant’s vice president of Google Search & AI is Tel Aviv-based researcher Professor Yossi Matias, who is also the founder and managing director of the Google R&D Center in Israel. He is also the founding co-lead of Google’s “AI for Social Good” initiative, a program that seeks to harness the company’s artificial intelligence expertise to solve humanitarian and environmental challenges.

Google’s AI-based social initiative has included a worldwide project for accurate flood forecasting, technology enabling the hearing impaired to conduct phone conversations, a text-to-speech feature called Duplex that allows users to listen to news stories, and other content, and studies on the use of AI to enhance disease diagnosis.

In April, Google and Tel Aviv University launched a three-year program to promote AI-related multidisciplinary research to address global social, economic and environmental challenges.

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